Thursday, December 17, 2009

No fire calls during happy hour please!

There's a wee bit of a scandal a brewin' in Squamish today, as the recently terminated Fire Chief of that community raises the alarm so to speak about some of the activities of the volunteer component of the Squamish Fire Department.

Recently fired Fire Chief Ray Saurette says that he was let go after he had spent a year or so trying to bring to an end the reported practice of drinking while in the hall by the volunteers who staff the hall after 4:30 pm.

The now former Chief says that the volunteer firefighters regularly drink beer in the district's two fire halls and sometimes attend emergency calls afterwards, a practice that would surely leave the folks of Squamish feeling a little squeamish.

Squamish only has six full time, professional fire fighters who staff the halls from 8:30 to 4:30, that total includes the Chief and Deputy Chief. The rest of the tours of duty are staffed by some 50 to 60 volunteer firefighters.

Like many communities in British Columbia, fire fighting has become a civic service that relies more and more on the volunteer component to fill out the roster of active fire fighters, it's a process that has been attempted in Prince Rupert with varying degrees of success over the last ten years or so.

Saurette who was chief for nine years and a member of the Squamish force for a total of fourteen, says that the regular force members don't drink while on the job and he feels that it was his quest to end the practice by the volunteers that led to his ouster from the service.

The Mayor of Squamish, Greg Gardner says that there was a directive given a year ago to the Chief to stop the volunteers from drinking in the halls, but that issue was not the reason for his termination.
He however went on to say in a radio interview that accusations of such behaviour are unfounded, which makes for an interesting bit of theatre considering the fact that the former chief says he was just following orders that the Mayor says were in place.

Some will offer up the opinion, that if the drinking has been going on as long as it appears to have been, the Chief perhaps had a convenient conversion to the district's goal of non drinking and is now only using the kerfuffle as part of his answer to the recent termination.

Some of the background on his charges and the situation in Squamish can be found from these articles.

Vancouver Sun
CBC News
CTV News
Vancouver Province

Still, the prospect of blitzed fire fighters responding to accident scenes and fires must be one that doesn't leave the folks in Squamish with a lot of confidence. You would think that for just issues of safety alone, both for the public and for those fire fighters that may not be drinking at the hall, there would be a rather direct procedure in place to ban the consumption of alcohol for those that are to be on the job.

Though if you were a member of the RCMP counter attack program this Christmas, one would think that this bit of knowledge will come in handy for future drinking and driving road blocks.

All that seems to be required is to line up the cars in front of the fire hall and just wait for the alarm bell to go off!

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